On the flightline with maintainers - electrical, environmental
By Airman 1st Class Hrair H. Palyan, 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 03, 2013
ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- (Editor's Note: This feature story is part of the "On the Flightline with Maintainers" series that focuses on the Airmen who maintain B-1 bombers and the impact they have on the Air Force mission.)
Ellsworth B-1 bombers have provided the U.S. with ground and air superiority for more than two decades - an accomplishment that wouldn't be possible if not for Airmen who work timelessly around-the-clock to service and repair the base's bomber fleet.
Aircraft electrical and environmental systems specialists are one of the six specialties in the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's specialist section who are responsible for making sure each B-1 at Ellsworth functions properly.
Every B-1 at Ellsworth is equipped with hundreds of sensors and indicators - each one designed to monitor one of the many different functions of the B-1 and quickly notify aircrews of any issues that present themselves while in the air.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Gillan, 28th AMXS electrical and environmental lead technician, said it's his job to inspect and evaluate sensors and indicators before and after flights in order to determine their operational status.
"A lot of the work we do involves troubleshooting the many sensor systems of the B-1," said Gillan. "To do that, we have two common types of inspections, red ball (pre-flight inspection) and blue ball (post-flight inspection). Both troubleshooting processes are pretty simple to conduct, but are extremely important when the safety of the aircrew and B-1 are concerned."
Gillan explained that during most of the red and blue ball inspections he and his team conduct, a number of potentially disastrous incidents are avoided by making minor repairs.
"During a recent red ball, we found and repaired an oxygen leak to one of the hoses that supplies oxygen to the aircrew," Gillan said. "Without oxygen during high altitude missions or flights, aircrew can get hypoxia, (lack of oxygen in the blood) black out and even die."
He continued to describe a blue ball inspection he and his team encountered in the past.
"The aircrew reported that their cockpit completely blacked out during flight," said Gillan. "Can you imagine flying a multi-million-dollar aircraft completely blind, without any instruments or the ability to communicate? Luckily they were still able to land the B-1 safely. When we were troubleshooting we found that the power generator in engine four was down because its harness shorted and sparked out because of friction during their flight."
Senior Airman Brandon Jadwin, 28th AMXS electrical and environmental technician, said he has spent the majority of his time as a technician familiarizing himself with the B-1s electrical systems - keying in on the intricate details of how each part functions.
"The inner-working of this aircraft is very complex," emphasized Jadwin. "We need to know the B-1 inside and out so we can repair malfunctioning parts and get them working correctly. Yes, it takes time to get the hang of dealing with the level of responsibility we do, but it's important that we do - people count on us. The aircrew have enough to worry about when they're on a mission."
Jadwin noted it's a gratifying experience to see a B-1 take off just minutes after the work he and his team put into it, adding that it never gets old.
"It's an awesome feeling to know what we do has such a positive impact on the base's mission," Gillan said. "I try to remind my Airmen that the jobs they complete every day - even those at home base - make B-1s the threat that they are to our enemies."